Lentils for breakfast- welcome

Here is your invitation to sample beautiful recipes that are good for you, good for the planet and good to eat. They mainly feature plants, because that's what I try to eat the most. I am not a fancy cook, but I believe that food is one of our greatest pleasures and deserves to be celebrated. Real food, whole food, kind food. Welcome to the feast!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Lunch to take to work: summer honey pumpkin salad

That's 2 hours work, sitting on my kitchen bench. I'll be glad for the effort at lunchtime tomorrow.

My daughter tagged this recipe (old school, with a Post-It on the page of a book).  It's from Wholefood by Jude Blereu, my go-to cookbook.

My daughter became a fully fledged vegetarian the night we went to see the hypnotic Jonathan Safran Foer talk about his book, Eating Animals, at the Sydney Opera House. Totally predictable.

Anyway, I fret about her protein intake, and the quality of her diet in general (when she's not at home, of course). So, she went through Wholefood and flagged the recipes that most appealed to her. The idea is she cooks them herself, introduces new recipes into the family repertoire and takes full responsibility for her vegetarianism.

But I can't wait for that and decided to try this one today.

Most salads taste best freshly made with fresh ingredients, which makes them tricky as make-ahead, lunch-in-the-office options. So, I've prepared the various components and will assemble them in the morning, and add the fragrant dressing at lunch time.

It's really promising at this pre-construction stage. Sweet and rich, with a clean splash from lime and a hint of danger from fresh chilli. Vegan, grain-free, nourishing and slow-carb. And, most of all, delicious.

But it took me a good couple of hours to make. Set aside some time and play some good music!

half a pumpkin, cut into chunks
1 tbs oil
2 tps honey
1 red pepper
I tbs oil
half a block of tempeh, sliced

1/4 cup sesame oil
3 tsp brown rice vinegar
3 tsp lime juice
1 tsp grated ginger (was flagging a bit by the peeling and grating ginger stage!)
generous handful coriander (leaves from about 10 sprigs)
1.5 tbs pear or apple juice concentrate
8 small mint leaves
1 small chilli

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Mix the pumpkin in a bowl with the oil (I used olive) and honey, then throw into a roasting tray and bake until soft. I tossed in some Dutch carrots because I had some left, and thought they would take well to the honey.

Heat the oil (I used sesame) in a fry-pan and fry the tempeh until lightly brown. Drain on kitchen paper. Dice into small cubes.

Grill the red pepper until the skin is black.

(I do this by laying some tin foil on the grilling tray and placing the pepper in quarters on top and sliding under the grill. Then, when the pepper is nicely charred, I wrap it up (carefully, with tongs) in the foil. Once the pieces are cool enough to handle, I peel off the skin. There are dozens of ways of doing this, so ignore me if you have your own method. Particularly if it's more efficient.)

Mix the dressing ingredients together until well combined and smelling divine. Pour into a glass jar for storage.

Jude makes this salad with avocado, rocket and marinated artichoke quarters. I'll add those ingredients on Monday morning when I put everything together in a container. Except the rocket. I couldn't find any, so I've steamed a huge bunch of cavalo nero to use instead.

And Jude suggests adding 1 tsp of roasted sesame oil and 3 kaffir lime leaves to the dressing. That sounds lovely, but I didn't want to buy some expensive ingredients that I don't usually use this time.

I love tempeh and eat it several times a week. I prefer it to tofu because it has a more hearty texture courtesy of whole soya beans. As they are retained (unlike tofu, which is more processed) tempeh contains all their nutrients. And that characteristic taste comes from the fact those beans are fermented.

We don't generally eat many fermented foods, but they are excellent for gut health as they introduce probiotics into the large intestine. This subject is worthy of an entire blog, so if you're interested I suggest you read what the ever-intelligent Mark from The Daily Apple has to say. He follows a Paleo diet and is highly respected within that community, but it does mean he offers a . . . particular perspective. Just saying.

 I doubt he approves of tempeh, but I think it's a handy, versatile and tasty source of plant protein. Jude suggests marinating it and then baking it to fully develop the flavour. I've tried this, but found it made it too rich for my taste. It can be overwhelming, but in this salad it's likely to be nutty and satisfying.

Yummy lunch tomorrow!

Tuna, chickpeas and broccoli salad with yoghurt dressing

The other salad I am going to enjoy at my desk this week is this beauty from Martha Rose Shulman at the NY Times. Sigh. Deeply envious of the food photography.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

2 beautiful summer recipes for happy slow-carbing

Sweet potato salad

Wish my photo could do justice to this gorgeous dish!

I spotted this promising recipe on Neil Perry's page in the Good Weekend magazine recently. I think his food has a reputation for being a bit chef-y and difficult, but this looked really inviting. So, later that day I gave it a whirl.

1 large sweet potato
sea salt
1 brown onion, chopped
1/2 tsp each ground cumin/paprika/chili powder
juice of half a lemon
flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Peel the sweet potato, chop into chunks and toss with 1 tbs olive oil and salt. Roast until soft.

Heat 1 tbs olive oil in a frying pan. Saute the onion until soft, then add the spices and a little salt. Toss to incorporate. Add another 1 tbs (or less) of oil, lemon juice, olives and parsley and toss again until evenly mixed. Done.

True to form, I did not follow Neil's recipe exactly, but improvised slightly according to my own preferences. Here is the maestro's original, complete with mouthwatering pic!

But the result was ooh la, la, divine. We served it with a small piece of baked chicken each, served on spinach sauteed with garlic. We greedily scoffed every mouthful of the large bowl of sweet potato because it was so delectable.

Think it would work equally well with roasted pumpkin and carrots. And Neil's recipe is served with white fish, which I'd also love to try.

Black bean ful

1 can of beans made 2 slow-carb lunches
Feel like I've been in a lentil rut recently. Then suddenly into my head popped this lovely recipe from an earlier cooking era, those benighted days of risotto-and-bread-for-dinner.

It's an Egyptian dish and comes from a book we had long relegated to a box in the storeroom: Sundays at Moosewood by the Moosewood Collective. It has now been dusted off and restored to the kitchen, where it belongs.

Moosewood Inc is a collective of 19 people who opened a restaurant of natural foods in 1973 and have taken it to be a thriving business over 38 years. As they say on their website, the Moosewood restaurant and cookbooks have been a driving force in creative vegetarian cooking. Hear, hear.

Anyway, I always loved this fresh, lemony, garlicky dish, which we served then with couscous and flat bread (!!), yoghurt and boiled egg. This week I had it twice for a healthy lunch with extra steamed green beans stirred through, and the egg. Most enjoyable. The beans, lemon and garlic complement each other beautifully. Beauti-ful.

Once again, I have freely adapted the original recipe.

1 can black beans (can't get enough black beans)
olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
half a cup lemon juice
2-3 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
generous amount of chopped parsley

Heat 1 tbs oil on a low heat and add the garlic for a gentle minute. Add the tomatoes and continue to heat gently as they release their juice. Add the beans and warm through, then add another 1 tbs of oil, salt, parsley and lemon juice. The beans absorb the flavours, but taste and adjust until the dish is as smooth, lemony and garlicky as you like. I kept it on the heat for 30 mins to allow the flavours to develop.

Let me know your favourite summer slow-carb recipes. Always looking for fresh ideas to freely adapt!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Surprisingly simple way to make wholefoods easier

Roasted cauliflower was a revelation. Meltingly soft and sweet . .
I have never considered roasting cauliflower.

I've always associated cauliflower with water. It's also always seemed a bit fiddly. And as I'm the only one in our household who likes it, I've always been put off by the fact that they are only available as whole or half cauliflowers, and that means cooking up more than I can eat in one sitting.

Similarly, I've never really liked the notion of boiling vegetables. Steaming is OK, but the word boiling is redolent of the smell of cabbage wafting down hallways at my boarding school. Boiling the crap out of vegetables was part of the British character in those days.

Tamar Adler
Well, both those notions were pleasantly tested this week when I read this wonderful article in the Well section of the NY Times. It's about a book called An Everlasting Meal from Tamar Adler whose approach to better food and cooking starts with setting a pot of water on to boil.

Tamar started her career as an editor (at Harpers: impressive) and then moved into cooking at several noteworthy restaurants, including Chez Panisse. She clearly embraces a slow cooking style where little is wasted and the uncomplicated dishes are the result of an intuitive response to fresh ingredients.

How Tamar prepares vegetables
Tamar's suggestions for preparing vegetables were an epiphany for me.

She returns to her stylish kitchen with bags of fresh produce, and proceeds to make the lot straightaway. A good many are roasted, including cauliflower. Others are sauteed or boiled.

Then she spoons them into glass jars and stores them in the fridge for later use. As Tara Parker-Pope notes in her article, this essentially turns vegetables into convenience food. Tamar shows you how she 'strides ahead' as she puts it in the elegant videos on her website.

A solution to the lunch dilemma
Ever since I started making my lentils for breakfast I have been all too conscious of the time required to make each recipe I've tried. Peeling, chopping, roasting, steaming, simmering and then washing up, packing and unpacking the dishwasher . . . And, as I have written before, I haven't been successful in preparing a lunch dish ahead as well.

This week, I drew inspiration from Tamar.

I made a batch of vegetables on Saturday - cavalo nero, sweet potato, green beans (and some exquisite poached peaches). It was a lovely, peaceful way to spend a couple of hours.

On Sunday, I roasted cauliflower and carrots and made the lentils. Now I have a bountiful supply of ingredients to combine for breakfast and lunch in the days ahead. Much less stressful, and so sensible that it seems madness not to have thought of doing this before.

Lentilicious helps to make it easy
I saved loads of time by making a packet of Coconut Fusion lentils from Lentilicious, sent to me by the fantastic Sharna and Anthea (thanks again, girls!). It is a beautiful, aromatic combination, irresistible even. I mixed in the revelatory roasted cauliflower for extra texture and flavour and the result is divine.

Coconut fusion lentils with roasted cauliflower. Tastes better than you might think from the pic! Roasted carrots drying off.

Good food is simple food
Tamar's view is that many people these days are intimidated by cooking. The 'convenience food generation' have not had the experience of seeing their mothers cook each day and, paradoxically, all those cooking shows and gorgeous recipe books make everyday cooking less accessible.

But we can discover cooking with a pot of salted, boiled water for vegetables or pasta or a chicken . . . good, nourishing food can be simply prepared and making it can be an enjoyable part of the day.

I read through some of the comments accompanying the article. One of them stated that cooking has become like sewing - a pursuit for the enthusiast, not a general activity that everyone engages in. Just recently I had lunch with a friend who has returned from New York. She said native New Yorkers thought she was eccentric for buying food and making it at home, instead of ordering in or going out.

I hope Tamar is a young harbinger of a shift in that world view. I can't wait to read the book.

What do you think? Can you imagine yourself in the kitchen preparing a week's worth of vegetables at once? Would it help your cooking if you did? Don't you think Tamar is an unusual name?!

Monday, 2 January 2012

5 things I learned from slow-carbing

Well, slow-carbers . . . Happy new year to us all. May life's simple pleasures be ours in abundance in 2012.

There's something about 1 Jan that makes stirs restless passions in those of us disposed to self-improvement. Really, it's totally random that one date in the year should mean Trying Again and Trying Harder to Be Better, but it does provide a convenient moment to happily write a few more lists of goals, tasks and aspirations. And to be fired up with optimism and purpose.

5 things I have learned

Setting new aspirations entails reflecting on old ones. Looking back at my highly idiosyncratic attempt at slow-carbing over 10 months, I can draw a few conclusions. This is what I learned.

1 Following a dietary prescription of any kind requires planning and preparation. In turn, this means commitment and persistence.

Lovely words. Who doesn't want to be committed and persistent in pursuing a worthy end.  But - the time involved in making my lentil dishes, tidying up the kitchen and then writing a blog post have consumed my Sunday afternoons. Giving up time for something is hard to do week after week.

2 Similarly, following a dietary prescription can be inconvenient.

I don't want to eat a separate meal from my husband and daughter every evening. On the nights when my husband cooks (5 out of 7), it's much easier (and more gracious) to eat whatever delicious meal he makes - which means pasta at least once a week and sandwiches for lunch at the weekend.

3 Carbs are everywhere!! Foods a slow-carber might be trying assiduously to avoid are just normal fare to practically everyone else. The blogoshpere is alive with the sound of the Paleos bellowing - but try telling that to your favourite cafe or the friends who invite you to dinner.

4 Slow-carbing is difficult for vegetarians. In fact, those of us who don't eat meat are wise to include occasional wholegrains with our legumes in order to consume a full complement of essential amino acids and maintain nitrogen balance.

5 We have to eat according to our values. Mia Freeman wrote recently about food and identity and how the moral complexities of what to eat are ever-more convoluted - our plates and shopping trolleys serve as a kind of political CV, as she puts it.

I'm someone whose beliefs are wholly 'enmeshed with the pantry' (she writes well, doesn't she?). And my beliefs about the treatment of animals in the end are what inform my food choices. I want to lose a little weight, but not enough to start eating red meat.

More things I learned

So, I didn't lose any weight, but I did learn to cook lentils. My cooking has really improved, as my daughter has kindly pointed out to me.

I discovered that making one big dal on Sunday to have as breakfast or lunch during the week is a sensible way to lower my overall carb intake. I used to eat lots of sandwiches and sushi, but not any more.

I look forward to experimenting with more recipes. Top of the list for this month:

  • black beans (couple of new recipes to try)
  • arapas (Mexican corn pancakes, one of Jude's recipes, looks a bit tricky for me, but I'm currently fired up with optimism, remember)
  • legume salads for lunch (feel like I've been saying this for a while now!)

Watch out for more recipes.

Lentils for dinner

To finish, here is a salad my husband made for dinner last night. We had it with a few pieces of chicken breast (organic and free-range, hasten to add). Lovely way to eat lentils as they added texture and flavour to the salad vegetables without taking over. The feta was a beautiful creamy accent.

My pics should improve when I get my iPhone!
Ingredients: steamed green beans, cucumber (peeled and seeded), tomato (ditto), olives (baked with oil and garlic first), caviar lentils and feta (non-animal rennet) and a dressing of olive oil, flaxseed oil, balsamic concentrate and lemon juice, served on a big bed of lettuce. Persian feta would give a sharper tang, but it was a thoroughly divine combination as it was.

Happy new year, everyone.  What did you learn last year? What are you going to do differently this year?